Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
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Theme issue ‘Varieties of abstract concepts: development, use and representation in the brain’ compiled and edited by Anna M. Borghi, Laura Barca, Ferdinand Binkofski and Luca Tummolini

About the issue

The capacity for abstract thought is one of the hallmarks of human cognition. However, the mechanisms underlying the ability to form and use abstract concepts like "fantasy" and "grace" have not yet been elucidated. This theme brings together developmental, social and cognitive psychologists, linguists, anthropologists, cognitive scientists, neuroscientists, philosophers, computer scientists and roboticists, to present theoretical insights and novel evidence on how abstract concepts are acquired, used and represented in the brain. Many of the contributions conceive of concepts as grounded in sensorimotor systems and constrained by bodily mechanisms and structures. The theme develops along two axes, related to the most promising research directions on abstract concepts. The axes focus on 1) the different kinds of abstract concepts (numbers, emotions, moral and aesthetic concepts, social concepts); 2) the role played by perception/action, language, sociality, emotions, and interoception in grounding abstract concepts. Most papers adopt a cognitive science / neuroscience approach, but the theme includes also studies on development, on social cognition, and on how linguistic diversity shapes abstract concepts. Overall, the theme provides an integrated theoretical account that highlights the importance of language, sociality, and emotions for abstract concepts, and that offers new methodological tools to investigate them.


Varieties of abstract concepts: development, use and representation in the brain
Published:18 June 2018Article ID:20170121


Review article
The multifaceted abstract brain
Published:18 June 2018Article ID:20170122

Research article
Sentential negation of abstract and concrete conceptual categories: a brain decoding multivariate pattern analysis study
Published:18 June 2018Article ID:20170124

Review article
Number concepts: abstract and embodied
Published:18 June 2018Article ID:20170125

Review article
Dynamic grounding of emotion concepts
Published:18 June 2018Article ID:20170127

Research article
Approach motivation in human cerebral cortex
Published:18 June 2018Article ID:20170141

Opinion piece
Grounding evaluative concepts
Published:18 June 2018Article ID:20170142

Research article
Concrete versus abstract forms of social concept: an fMRI comparison of knowledge about people versus social terms
Published:18 June 2018Article ID:20170136

Review article
A Peircean account of concepts: grounding abstraction in phylogeny through a comparative neuroscientific perspective
Published:18 June 2018Article ID:20170128

Opinion piece
The case of CAUSE: neurobiological mechanisms for grounding an abstract concept
Published:18 June 2018Article ID:20170129

Research article
Gender is not simply a matter of black and white, or is it?
Published:18 June 2018Article ID:20170126

Research article
Scanning of speechless comics changes spatial biases in mental model construction
Published:18 June 2018Article ID:20170130

Review article
A review of abstract concept learning in embodied agents and robots
Published:18 June 2018Article ID:20170131

Opinion piece
Boundaries to grounding abstract concepts
Published:18 June 2018Article ID:20170132

Review article
Moving beyond the distinction between concrete and abstract concepts
Published:18 June 2018Article ID:20170144

Research article
Interoception: the forgotten modality in perceptual grounding of abstract and concrete concepts
Published:18 June 2018Article ID:20170143

Opinion piece
Metacognition and abstract concepts
Published:18 June 2018Article ID:20170133

Review article
Abstract concepts, language and sociality: from acquisition to inner speech
Published:18 June 2018Article ID:20170134

Review article
Language as a disruptive technology: abstract concepts, embodiment and the flexible mind
Published:18 June 2018Article ID:20170135

Opinion piece
Language is more abstract than you think, or, why aren't languages more iconic?
Published:18 June 2018Article ID:20170137

Research article
Communicating abstract meaning: concepts revealed in words and gestures
Published:18 June 2018Article ID:20170138

Research article
Learning abstract words and concepts: insights from developmental language disorder
Published:18 June 2018Article ID:20170140

Research article
Olfactory language and abstraction across cultures
Published:18 June 2018Article ID:20170139